Do you believe that we are living in the End times? Whenever I ask that question to Christians, most of them state unequivocally; absolutely. What they mean is that this world is coming to an end as we know it. A new world order is about to come upon us from beyond this earthly planet. A cosmic invasion. God returning to complete the work of redemption, including our resurrection bodies and the renewal of all creation.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.[i]
The New Testament explains that since the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been living in the last days (cf. Acts 2:17-33). The early church lived with a heightened expectation that Jesus was due to arrive back on the planet at any moment. There was a sense of urgency to fulfill the mission that Jesus had commissioned the church to accomplish. It was a significant mission with incredible challenges but not without amazing authority and support from Jesus, Himself. He said that He would be with us on that mission, helping us to accomplish our part of it. One of the challenges though for many believers today is losing a sense of urgency and expectation that believers gain when we are walking close to Jesus. Though living in this world, we must be ever mindful that we do not embrace the values of our world.
Thomas Schreiner points out regarding the sense of engagement that we should have in light of this expectation of Christ’s soon return.
Eschatology [word about last things] is invariably used to encourage believers to live in a godly way. Nor does the New Testament ever invite believers to withdraw from the world because of the end is near and to gaze at the skies, hoping that the Lord will return soon. The imminence of the end should function as a stimulus to action in this world. The knowledge that believers are sojourners and exiles, whose time is short, should galvanize them to make their lives count now.[ii]
In the first part of 1 Peter 4:1-6, Peter has been speaking of the future judgment and then declares: ‘the end of all things is near,’ in verse 7. He now explains how we should we be living in response to this coming reality. How can we prepare for this cosmic invasion?
We might expect a call for extraordinary behavior, thinking something unusual would be demanded in light of the arrival of the end. Peter exhorted his readers, however, to pursue virtues that are a normal part of New Testament paraenesis [practice]. We are reminded of what Martin Luther said when asked what he would do if the end would come today. He replied that he would plant a tree and pay his taxes. What Luther meant, of course, was that he lived every day in light of the end, and hence he would do the appointed task of that day.[iii]
Since we have always been living in the end times since Jesus’ ascension into heaven, what are the things that we, as believers, need to focus on to prepare for Jesus’ return in power and glory to our planet? What is interesting in the texts that we are looking at today is that a shift is being made from the believers’ focus to outsiders’ who had been hostile or questioning to insiders. How are we to relate to each other as believers?
THE FIRST THING THAT PREPARES US FOR JESUS’ COMING IS A LIFE OF PRAYER
Prayer is a fundamental aspect of the Christian life as it is an expression of genuine faith or trust in God. Prayer is simply calling upon God. “ The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray (1 Peter 4:7).”
A. Praying privately and in secret.
Prayer in the New Testament begins individually, with each believer privately seeking God. We are instructed to enter a room, close the door to be uninterrupted and pray. What we are doing secretly or privately will be answered publicly as stated in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is addressing the issue of hypocritical prayer where people were posturing to appear spiritual. Jesus rebukes that kind of praying. Proper praying is all about motivation. Why are we praying?
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.[iv]
But praying does not end there. We are also called to pray with one another.
B. We are called to pray together in community.
An overview of the prayer life of the early church reveals that they prayed together. On the day of Pentecost, the hundred and twenty believers were in collective prayer. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women… (Acts 1:14a).”
After persecution broke out, Peter and John were released and after reporting back to other believers what had transpired, their response was to pray together about the challenges they faced. What we also discover is how God powerfully answered their cry.
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.
When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.[v]
Here in 1 Peter 4:7, Peter explains the conditions for effective praying. We need to be alert and sober minded. Paul Achtemeier relates that the two imperatives of being alert and sober minded “points to the need for a disciplined life which is not only necessary for prayer but also for the kind of life with fellow Christians described in the following verses.”[vi]
Often during times of crisis people lose their heads, rather than keep their cool. People are quick to panic and overreact to issues.
The nearness of the end has led some believers to lose their heads and act irrationally. On the contrary, believers should think sensibly as they contemplate the brevity of life in this world. Those who know the contours of history are able to access the significance of the present.[vii]
The best response to crisis is to look to God, to trust him to guide us through. History teaches that times of crisis will ultimately pass. To be sober minded is the opposite of being intoxicated or drunk which speaks of an impaired condition. Peter is telling us to understand what is happening considering God’s word. We need to see things from a biblical perspective.
This will lead to prayer – not the prayer based on daydreams and unreality, nor the prayer based on surprised desperation, but the prayer that calls upon and submits to God in light of reality seen from God’s perspective and thus obtains power and guidance in the situation, however evil the time may be. …for proper prayer is not an ‘opiate’ or escape, but rather a function of clear vision and a seeking of even clearer vision from God.[viii]
God instructs His people during times of prayer. He makes a way to take in those moments, a way to act. It is a way of trust rather than succumbing to human fears.
THE SECOND THING THAT PREPARES US FOR JESUS’ COMING IS HOW WE TREAT EACH OTHER
While earlier in the letter Peter had been instructing how to respond to outsiders who are persecuting and reviling believers, here we find instructions on how we need to treat each other as believers. The foremost thing that we should be doing is loving each other. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:8-9.”
A. Breaking the hate cycle.
We see the general principle and then Peter moves to a specific example of how that love should be demonstrated in the care of one another.
Christian love is not just about an individual’s love for God or for Christ. He who loves God cannot love God and hate his brother. We manifest our love for God by a fervent love for each other. There is a big difference between tolerance and zealous love.[ix]
Howard Marshall explains the nature of this kind of deep love.
It has to be a ‘deep’ love, but the English word doesn’t adequately convey the sense of the Greek ‘at full stretch’ Why at full stretch? Because this love will be stretched to the limit by the demands made on it. …Many people are prepared to care for others; they are less ready to have affection for them and to demonstrate it. It requires love at full stretch to do this.[x]
What Peter is doing here is quoting Proverbs 10:12. “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” Peter Davids explains this text, “In the OT it means that love will pass over wrongs done to a person rather than continue a dispute.”[xi]
In other words, we need to learn to overlook offenses and not be so sensitive, and easily take offenses. This ability to not take everything personally is an important key to maintaining relationships. Obviously, we are not talking about abuse here, which needs to always be addressed in a healthy manner.
N.J.D. White in the Greek New Testament Expositor explainsa person who is under the control of godly love acts
when a private personal injury has been done to him, as though nothing has occurred. In this way, by simply ignoring the unkind act or the insulting word, …he brings the evil thing to an end; it dies and leaves no seed. …This consideration gives dignity and worth inestimable to feeble efforts of the most insignificant of us to make love the controlling principle in our daily lives.[xii]
It is interesting that the idea of love covering sin is a picture taken from the Old Testament mercy seat, where once a year the High Priest would bring blood from a sacrificial animal and apply it over the mercy seat. The idea was that sin was now atoned for or covered. This idea of covering goes all the way back to the garden where Adam and Eve, having fallen into sin, were naked and desired a covering. Though they used fig leaves, God clothed them with a garment of skin. Only God’s provision adequately covers our sins. “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them (Genesis 3:21).”
It is evident that God had to kill an animal in order to make this provision. It required the shedding of blood. Why? The outcome of sin is always death, and a substitute must be found in order for forgiveness to be granted and life extended. What Peter is saying here in verse 8 is that our love covers or compensates for the faults of others. If we are to remain in relationship with others, we must be willing to love others and accept their limitations. Often these can be wearisome. If we are to remain in community, we must be able to show levels of toleration and forbearance towards others. This text is not suggesting that by showing love our sins are covered, or the sins of others are covered, but that the person sinned against does not remain in a state of unforgiveness toward the perpetrator. There is opportunity for reconciliation and healing.
R. C. Sproul again explains that when we become fault finding and petty, we destroy community.
“Nothing will destroy a church faster than pettiness, people picking at each other over trivial things. In the New Testament we are told that when Christians commit gross and heinous sins, they must be disciplined as part of the spiritual nurture of the church. However, our Lord was very careful to specify the sins that require discipline, understanding that no one in the church of Christ is finished with sanctification. We all bring baggage into the Christian life; we are each at a different point in our progression.[xiii]
Therefore, to live in community, to live in harmony, to live in family, we must exhibit a loving and forgiving spirit.
B. The caring assimilation of hospitality.
The early church homes were both the meeting place and often the hotels for itinerants who traveled and needed a place to stay. Both of these were at a cost to the host both in terms of resources, but also emotional investment. Peter addressed the issue of doing the right thing reluctantly or grudgingly. There is something about opening our hearts and homes to others. When we invest our lives into the lives of people, though costing time and money, it creates healthy communities.
Today there are cultures where family is the key to the interaction in society from work to marriage. In these cultures, when people become believers, they are often cut off from family and societal support. It is critical that the church family supports and encourages them by being that family. In our culture, one of the most important aspects is that we work at building meaningful relationships with each other. People new to the faith need to find inclusion; to be accepted and encouraged to be a part of the social fabric of our lives as believers. This requires effort, time and hospitality of us as well as openness to receive this by those who are looking for meaningful interaction.
THE THIRD THING THAT PREPARES US FOR JESUS’ COMING IS THE FAITHFUL USE OF THE GIFTS GOD HAS GIVEN US
One of the great moments in a believer’s life is when they discover that their lives are not their own. We move from thinking about ourselves as central to understanding that we are accountable to God. We understand that we are stewards or given a managerial role in living our lives. We realize that we are accountable to God for all the grace [charis] and gifts [charisma] that He has placed in our lives. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10).”
All that God has given us is to be used to bless and serve others. We are to be instruments of God’s grace to those around us. “Spiritual gifts are not fundamentally a privilege but a responsibility, a call to be faithful to what God has bestowed.”[xiv] Every one of us is a gifted member in His body. What happens when parts of the human body quit operating? The body then is not healthy and can even be in jeopardy of life itself. Jesus expects us to function in our gifts; that is why He has given them to us. In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, which follows the parable of the ten virgins, we see the importance of being ready for Christ’s return and being faithful in exercising the gifts or investing the resources that God has given us. In comparing the responses of the three servants in the parable of the talents, we see that two of them were faithful to exercise their gifts. However, the person who was given little buried or neglected what was given to them. When the master returned and found out that the servant had neglected what was given to them, the action was deemed as evil. The NIV describes this parable as bags of gold because a talent was a unit of money in the New Testament.
So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.
For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.[xv]
The point of the parable is that genuine servants of Christ desire to do God’s will and serve him according to the abilities and capacities that God equips us with. In other words, good works is an evidence of a true and genuine faith.
B. Here we see that the gifts are divided into two categories: speaking and serving.
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.[xvi]
1. The speaking gifts should convey God’s words. These are the speaking gifts of the Spirit. Thomas Schreiner explains the idea: “Using speaking gifts to minister to others means that the one speaking endeavors to speak God’s words. How easy it is to think that we can assist others with our own wisdom…”[xvii] The person speaking should be in conformity to God’s revealed word found in the Scriptures.
“that those who teach about Christ and offer counsel in his name must understand themselves to be representing God’s words to the community. Therefore, those who speak must understand that they are engaged in serious business that restrains them from positing merely their own human speculation. Instead, they must speak in accordance with the revelation that God has given in the OT and through the apostles of Christ.[xviii]
I try to keep in my mind, ‘Who cares what I think?’ What people want to know is, ‘What does God think about this or that?’
2. Those who are serving should do so according to the strength that God provides. We do this with all our heart. There is an earnestness in which we ought to serve God. Though we are serving one another, we must always bear in mind that when we have done it to the ‘least of these,’ we are in actually doing it unto the Lord.
C. The motivation for praying, loving, and serving is to glorify God.
The word for glory in Hebrew conveys the idea of substance and weight. God is a person of great substance and necessity. Thomas Aquinas argued for the existence of God by calling Him the ‘necessary being.’
The universe and everything in it could exist without us. We are not necessary to the existence of all things. The fact that we are not necessary creatures means that we have a contingent, derived, dependent existence.[xix]
God is the only self-existent and necessary being. We all come from Him, were created by Him, and were created for Him. All that we do ought to be done with the idea that our praying, loving and serving are for Him.
Peter has reminded us that the ‘end of all things is near.’ Jesus is coming again. We can expect that cosmic invasion and therefore we need to live in light of that expectancy. Are we alert, sober minded, praying without ceasing? Or are we living a self-focused, distracted and careless life? Are we stretching out our lives for others? Are we opening our hearts and allowing people into our lives? Are we faithfully using all that God has put into our lives so that He ultimately will be glorified in our lives? Are we speaking God’s message or caught up in distortions of that message? Are we prepared for that cosmic invasion? Are we ready for Jesus?
[i] Romans 8:22-23, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 211.
[iv] Matthew 6:5-6.
[v] Acts 4:23-24, 31.
[vi] Paul Achtemeier, 1 Peter: Hermeneia-A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 294.
[vii] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, 211.
[viii] Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 156-57.
[ix] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019), 134.
[x] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991), 143.
[xi] Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 158.
[xii] N.J.D. White, The First and Second Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus, Greek New Testament Expositor, (1919), 543, 546 as quoted by Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 279.
[xiii] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, 135.
[xiv] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, 214.
[xv] Matthew 25:28-30.
[xvi] 1 Peter 4:11.
[xvii] Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, 215.
[xviii] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 282.
[xix] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, 143.